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6 tax & financial tips for the next lottery millionaire

UPDATE, Jan. 10, 2023: The two national lottery jackpots are huge. The next Powerball drawing on Wednesday, Jan. 11, will be at least $360 million ($188.7 million lump sum). Mega Millions is now mega billion-plus. The drawing Tuesday, Jan. 10 (that's tonight!) will pay out more than $1.1 billion ($568.7 million cash) to a single winner. If your numbers do come up, congratulations! After you recover from the shock and elation, check out these tips to help you cope with being a sudden millionaire. 

Lottery vending machine
Picking lucky numbers from a lottery game dispenser.

Benjamin Franklin wasn't wrong, but he was pre-national lotteries. Joining death and taxes as life's constants is Americans' love of gambling. One of the most popular betting options is selecting the winning numbers in the two national lotteries, Powerball and Mega Millions.

Every few months, the jackpots hit astronomical levels. One of those times is next week for Mega Millions, as noted in the lead-in paragraph atop this post. The Powerball amount is less, but I wouldn't turn down those millions either!

Whether you have your Mega Millions and/or Powerball tickets in hand for next week's drawings, or will spend a few dollars on future jackpots in the hopes of a multimillion return, here are six tax and financial tips to check out just in case your luck makes you a big winner.

1. Hire or at least consult a tax professional.
By now, everyone is well aware that lottery jackpots mean big winnings for the tax man, too, since Uncle Sam considers gambling proceeds (and other winnings) taxable income. A tax pro will be able to give you an overview of the myriad tax issues you'll face at the federal and your state and local levels.

Regardless of how you receive your winnings (more on this in tip #2), Uncle Sam will get his cut up front. At the federal level, taxes on lottery winnings of more than $5,000 are withheld automatically at the 24 percent rate.

If you happen to live a state with a personal income tax, which is most of them, you'll also likely owe your state tax collectors.

A few income-taxing states do have special tax rules for lottery winnings, ranging from lower rates to no taxes on resident winners.

Your tax adviser, and you should hire/consult him or her before you collect your winnings, can help you maneuver these immediate tax matters, as well as advise you on the next tax steps a sudden millionaire must consider.

Just make sure you (1) pick the type of tax preparer that best fits your new wealth needs and then (2) thoroughly check out that preparer to make sure that she or he is knowledgeable and trustworthy.

2. Decide how you want your money.
The smart-ass answer to the question as to when to collect your cash is "as soon as possible." But that's not necessarily the smart answer.

Depending on where you live, you'll have time, possibly months, to decide whether to get your winnings at once in a lump sum or as 30 annuity payments over 29 years (the first payment is immediate).

For the current $810 million Mega Millions jackpot, the lump sum payment before taxes would be just more than $470 million if you take a cash payout. Powerball's $130 million can be taken as a $76.8 million cash lump sum.

The advantage of taking a lump sum is you get all the money at once. The disadvantage of taking a lump sum is that you must pay tax on the entire amount in one tax year. Your tax pro (more on this coming up in #3) can help you break out the tax costs, federal and state where applicable, of the payment options.

The advantage of an annuity is that you're taxed only as you receive the payments. The disadvantage of an annuity is you only get a few million a year. OK, not really a disadvantage, but you know what I mean.

You also don't have any control with an annuity over how the winnings might grow. Compare the effective yield of the annuity with what you could earn by taking the money at once, paying the taxes and then investing the proceeds on your own.

You also need to do a little economic and political prognosticating.

The current top federal individual ordinary income tax rate is, thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enacted in late 2017 is 37 percent. Plus, if you do take the cash now and invest it, note that there's the added 3.8 percent net investment income tax that's tacked on to earnings by wealthy taxpayers, of which you'll be a part.

The current federal top individual tax is in effect through tax year 2025. But President Joe Biden still is trying to bump up that top individual income tax rate. And while it's now in more whispered tones, talk of also hiking the capital gains tax on long-term investments of the wealthiest taxpayers is still out there.

You never know if or when tax changes might happen, but you need to be aware of possibilities and what they might mean to your new found wealth and planning on how to reduce tax on it

That's a lot to consider, which brings us to tip #3.

3. Pick a team of financial and legal advisers.
Regardless of how you take the winnings, you're probably going to be in the highest tax bracket for a while. That tax professional you just hired will come in handy.

But all that moolah poses other financial considerations. You'll also want to add an investment adviser, accountant, insurance specialist and attorney to your new financial team. Each can help you sort through the financial and legal intricacies of dealing with such a large amount of money.

There are ways to legally shelter your income, but typically they are complex. That's why the rich hire the best and brightest advisers to maneuver through the financial and tax rules and regulations.

You are part of that wealthy club now, so use some of your winnings to hire experienced financial professionals to help safeguard your membership.

Leonardo DiCaprio as title character in 2013 movie The Great Gatsby_Warner Bros PR photo
Welcome to Club Wealthy!

4. Create short- and long-term wealth plans.
Now that you've got all the cash, make some plans so that you don't just blow through it. That happens way too often to sudden millionaires. Sure, a short-term goal might be to buy a new or better, not just bigger, house.

That's not necessarily a bad move. We all want a nice place to live in a good neighborhood and there still are some tax advantages to home ownership.

But you also need to think further into your new wealthy future. Again, this is where your group of gurus can help.

So that you stay in the top income tier, you'll want to create a wealth plan. This involves investments — remember, long-term capital gains are taxed, at least for now, at lower rates than ordinary income — and estate planning.

Don't forget about insurance. You'll have a lot more worldly goods that need to be protected. You'll also need coverage from the sadly inevitable lawsuits you could face from folks trying to cash in on your new-found wealth. And tying in with your estate plan, you should look into a policy that could provide some liquidity for your heirs if they need to pay any taxes on your estate.

5. Carefully consider gifts.
With all that new disposable income, you'll probably want to share the wealth. Good for you.

The gifts likely will include funds for charities, as well as to family and friends.

As for how the giving can help you, large charitable gifts to valid 501(c)(3) groups are still tax deductible if you itemize. The TCJA increased how much you can give, up to 60 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) from the prior 50 percent philanthropic limit.

Now I'm not expecting or encouraging you to give away all your winnings. Just letting you know. It's just one of the things you'll need to consider.

Once you determine the size of your gift, don't just show up at your favorite IRS-approved nonprofit with a big check. Talk with the charity, and your tax and financial advisers, first. While the organization definitely will be grateful for the financial help, getting a huge gift also could pose some planning issues for the group. A well thought out giving plan can help not only the charities you choose, but also do a lot of good for your own financial and tax situations.

Again, your tax adviser can suggest options, such as establishing an endowment for your favorite nonprofit or a donor advised fund, that work best for your new tax and financial situation, as well as the charities with which you want to share your new wealth.

As for your family and friends, make sure you know what effect such a gift could have on them and you. True, gifts are never taxable to the recipient, but when you give more than the annual gift exclusion amount — which is $17,000 for tax year 2023 — then you have some tax paperwork to complete.

Also, note that an extravagant gift, however well-intentioned, could have additional financial obligations that the recipient isn't prepared to meet.

An expensive car means higher auto insurance costs. A high-dollar home also will have more operating and maintenance costs, as well as an equally high property tax rate that the new homeowner might not be able to meet year after year.

And don't forget the ultimate gift, bequests to heirs. Again, your financial dream team can help you work through the considerations of what will happen to your money once you're gone.

The TCJA has greatly increased the federal estate tax exemption. Under the new inflation adjustments, heirs in 2023 can leave a tax-free estate of up to $12.92 million, twice that for a married couple. Unless legislative changes are made — again, keeping track of this is why you want a tax pro by your side — by your bequests are made even more (or less) of your estate could be free from the 40 percent (for now) federal estate tax.

Note that a handful of states also collect an estate tax. A couple have inheritance taxes, too, so include that possibility in your ultimate asset plans.

6. Add up your gambling losses.
We're less than two weeks into 2023, so unless you have a major gambling problem, you probably don't have that many gambling losses. 

And realistically, if your numbers come up on the current Mega Millions or slightly less lucrative Powerball (which I'd also take in a second!) jackpots, you'll never accumulate enough in losing bets to make a dent in your taxes due on the winnings. Again, unless you have a betting addiction.

Old Powerball lottery tickets bought by SKB
Some of my old, losing Powerball tickets. Yes, I've been a sucker for big jackpots years!

But for the rest of us casual gamblers who occasionally drop a few dollars on lottery tickets or other games of chance, our meager winnings — my most recent lotto slip paid out a whopping $4 — might be offset by our more common gambling losses.

While the TCJA made a lot of changes to the Internal Revenue Code, one tax break of interest to bettors remains. You still can deduct your gambling losses against any winnings as an itemized deduction on Schedule A.

The key, as with all things tax, is to keep track of your gambling wins and losses throughout the year. Your losses can offset your winnings, but not create a gambling loss.

For most of who occasionally waste a few bucks on Powerball or Mega Millions when the pots get too big to resist, our lottery tickets will go into our gambling loss folder.

Tally all the numbers: I hope you one day are lucky enough to need to use these six tips. As I just mentioned and long-time readers of the ol' blog know, I spring for a lottery ticket or two when the jackpots are like these, so I hope I get to use them, too!

I know, it's a waste of money. But you can't blame a gal for dreaming, even against long odds.

And speaking of odds, here are the specific Mega Millions and Powerball numbers.

The chance of being the only big winner matching all six Mega Millions lottery balls is 302,575,350-to-1. The odds of matching just the five white balls sans the sixth Mega Ball are relatively better at 12,607,306-to-1.

Your chance of getting all five regular Powerball ping-pong balls, but not the Powerball, is 1 in 11,688,053. The odds of getting all six winning Powerball numbers are even slimmer, or 1 in 292,201,338.

But hope springs eternal, as long as you have the cash for the lottery vending machine. Good luck to everyone, including me!

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